Clevelanders Banking on Food Bank to Hear Them

Imagine, for a moment, that you cannot afford to purchase food for yourself or your family.  With food stamps providing enough to get about $15 each month, there is often very little that people can buy with that much money, as it only provides $.50 each day if they are used evenly throughout the month.  For many Cleveland families, this is not imagination.  These hardships are equally met

Since it was founded in 1979, the Greater Cleveland Food Bank has grown into the largest hunger relief organization in Northeast Ohio.  According to their website, the Food Bank has delivered 57 Million meals in 2018 alone, they are connected with 940 local food pantries.  The organization has grown significantly in their time.  Inevitably, with service come complaints from those being served.  These complaints were typically about food going bad too fast for people to eat it.  Still others were in regards to those providing service, and how the consumers are treated rudely, particularly in East Cleveland.

When we asked residents of apartment complexes in East Cleveland about their experiences with the Food Bank, we saw a pattern.  One was that the meals being distributed are rarely, if ever, adjusted for dietary restrictions.  Others said that there was very little concern for cultural sensitivity in their meals.  A resident of the Terrace Towers apartment complex, Mallronda M., went so far as to say  “Cultural sensitivity is there, but it isn’t...In slavery time, they gave us the scraps, and the scraps were leftover from dinner.  So, whatever you had that day from the high class people, it just came down to us.  And that’s what it is.  It is culturally sound, but it’s only culturally sound with slavery.”  While it may seem like this is a harsh comparison, the fact that rotting food seems to be a common complaint among the consumers gives Mallronda’s claims merit.

Similarly, another Food Bank consumer, Nicole S., also felt that both the cultural sensitivity and regard for the consumer’s mental health were lacking.  “Spices should be culturally thought about when they supply the food. Also, some food comes in big piles that can be overwhelming and not useful...if you’re already stressed and depressed, you can't figure out what to do with a pile of food. There should be a helping process from the distribution by them providing spices, a pot or pan, or spoons or anything.”

One resident of the Kingsbury community, William Y. gave a differing, but balanced opinion on the subject.  He did agree that food is occasionally rotten, or growing mold upon arrival, he said such problems are minimal compared to the good food banks and food pantries do for the community as a whole.  He said food on the verge of going bad could be a blessing to those who really need the food.  His rationale behind this is because people who need these organizations typically don’t have the luxury of being picky about what food they’re given, they just need food.

William also mentioned a few problems he’s noticed while he’s been a consumer of the Food Bank. Namely, a lot of people who complain about what is being given can afford to buy food on their own, so they can afford to waste food.  To paraphrase his words, those who use the food bank while they can afford their own food are really only there to get more, due to a sense of entitlement.  While it is difficult to verify William’s claims, he does provide food for thought on the matter.  If a high number of people are taking advantage of a charity being provided, then that makes it harder to provide enough fresh and healthy foods to those who really need it.

When looking at how food banks and food pantries operate, it is important to note a few things.  A food bank has the role of wholesale and distribution to the food pantries.  It’s the food pantries that distribute meals and groceries directly to the consumers.  Additionally, these organizations are non-profits, relying on donations, and government funding to operate.  Those donations can take the form of money, or food and other groceries.

When they donate, individuals,restaurants, canned food drives, and grocery stores have a tendency to send what would normally go unused.  This typically means food that is close to its expiration date, or canned goods with very poor nutritional value.  As non-profit organizations, food banks don’t have the luxury of being too picky about what food donations they accept, so, after inspecting the goods to make sure the packaging isn’t damaged, and the food isn’t going bad, whatever passes that process is added to what is distributed.

There were a few other issues, brought up during the interviews at Terrace Towers and Kingsbury Tower, that should be questioned.  Is it really the responsibility of a Food Bank/Food Pantry to consider the cultures of the consumers?  And if the consumers are throwing away food based on brand recognition, do they truly need the food bank to afford food?  The role of a food bank is to provide charity for those who cannot afford to buy their own food.

There are a number of ways the food bank can improve, which the consumers mentioned during our interviews.  First, food donations need to be more thoroughly checked, and leftovers from restaurants should only be accepted if they’re non-perishables.  If food would not pass health codes for restaurants, then it should not be accepted as a donation.  For the complaints that food is worse than what would go to a dog, while the food being donated does not need to be the highest quality, nor does it necessarily need to be the greatest brands.  It should, however, be adequate for human consumption.

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Volume 11, Issue 2, Posted 4:36 PM, 01.30.2019